Last season, the Kansas City Royals were the darlings of the postseason. Buoyed in large part by the dominant trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the Royals entered the postseason as one of the American League Wild Card teams and came within one Madison Bumgarner of winning the World Series. They came within a game of winning the championship despite an offense that hit only 95 home runs and ranked 17th in OPS at .690.
With the Royals being proof, even if for one year, that a team can contend with solid starting pitching and an excellent bullpen. Even without a strong offense, a team can still find their way towards a winning season. In fact, that model may give hope for the Astros going into the 2015 season.
Without the resources to improve via free agency like the Dodgers or the Yankees, Jeff Luhnow and the Astros need to find more unconventional means to build a contender. While there is the tried and, depending on luck, true method of building through the draft, even a team of younger players needs to have key veterans interspersed throughout the roster.
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This appears to be the strategy that the Astros have employed. Originally linked to top free agent relievers Andrew Miller and David Robertson, the Astros managed to sign Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, who have been added to Chad Qualls. They are still linked to free agent relievers, with Rafael Soriano or Francisco Rodriguez as possibilities. What already looks like a solid Astros bullpen could get even better.
Adding a quality bullpen to a starting rotation fronted by Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Scott Feldman, the Astros may well have enough pitching to keep games close. Should Jon Singleton and George Springer be able to take that next step in their development, the Astros could be one of the surprise teams of 2015.
There may be light at the end of the tunnel for the Houston Astros. That return to contention could happen a lot sooner than expected.